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2 walls give way in latest Pompeii collapse

Two more walls have given way inside Pompeii's 2,000-year-old archaeological site, Italian officials said Wednesday — the second collapse at the popular tourist attraction in as many days.

Officials sought to play down the latest collapses, saying they only concerned the upper parts of two walls that had no artistic value. But the repeated damage at one of the world's most important archaeological sites is proving an embarrassment for Italy, and giving credence to accusations that the entire ancient city is in a state of decay.

The collapses have drawn the attention of the UNESCO experts, who will travel to Pompeii on Thursday to inspect the damage and look for other possible areas at risk.

Some 3 million people every year visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii, a busy Roman city that was destroyed in A.D. 79 by an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The eruption killed thousands and buried the city in 20 feet (6 meters) of volcanic ash, providing priceless information on what life was like in the ancient world.

Pompeii was made a World Heritage site in 1997, a status that means its deterioration would be "a harmful impoverishment" to the world.

Two walls collapsed Wednesday morning, likely as a result of heavy rains over the past several days, the office of Pompeii's archaeological superintendent said. One concerned the 2-meter by 3-meter (6 1/2 feet by nearly 10 foot) upper chunk of a partition wall between two buildings along the central route of Via Stabiana.

Also giving way nearby was the upper part of a wall of an ancient house known as the "small Lupanare." The name usually refers to a brothel, although this was a small house off-limits to tourists and not the vast "Lupanare" brothel famous for its erotic frescoes that is one of the main attractions at Pompeii.

Neither of the collapsed walls featured frescoes, officials said. The area has been cordoned off as cultural officials review the damage.

"These kind of events are possible over the course of the life of a 2,000-year-old, vast archaeological site," superintendent Jeannette Papadopoulos said, seeking to play down the incidents. "They should not give rise to alarmism."

Still, Culture Minister Sandro Bondi has been criticized since the collapse last month of the Schola Armaturarum, a frescoed house where gladiators prepared for combat. Then on Tuesday, a stretch of garden wall ringing the ancient House of the Moralist gave way, intensifying calls for action.

UNESCO said the collapses of the last two days "renewed concerns about the ancient Roman city's state of preservation."

UNESCO experts will identify possible threats to other structures and measures to avoid further incidents, as well as study the impact of the recent collapses on the site's "integrity, authenticity and outstanding universal value."

Bondi, a close ally of conservative Premier Silvio Berlusconi, faces a no-confidence motion in parliament, which was proposed by opposition parties in the wake of the gladiator house's collapse. The date has not been set.

Recently, other collapses have plagued Italy's vast cultural heritage, including at Nero's Golden Palace in Rome and at the Colosseum, where three chunks of mortar broke off months ago.

Bondi has denied responsibility, telling an Italian newspaper that between September 2003 and February 2010 there have been 16 collapses at Pompeii.

"As you can see, collapses don't just take place when the right is in charge," Bondi told the Corriere della Sera. Bondi also said he had called a meeting to look at ways to better preserve the site, including possibly with private funding.

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